Jenny's Story: Part Two
By Katie Arcara
If you haven’t yet, we'd encourage you to click here first and read Part One of Jenny’s Story.
Staring across the table, it’s hard to imagine Jenny saying her second goodbye as a foster mom hardly one week prior, this time to two little ones. It’s hard to fathom all the memories, energy, and conflicting emotions she must carry within her, but her abundant love is evident.
As we set aside our dinner plates I am so curious about all that’s brought her here to this moment. She begins by taking us back to the abrupt end of her time with Baby A. “I took a little bit of a break from foster care after letting him go, trying to figure out how to grieve a child now living 20 minutes down the road. It was very difficult to go from that mindset of ‘I have you forever’ to ‘I am probably never going to see you again’ all within five hours. My whole world flipped in seconds, but it was the reality of foster care.”
“But I finally opened up my home again, I believe it was about two months later.” She continues, “I was supposed to get a little girl but it ended up falling through, and then probably three calls later I got a call for two. It was quite the call! I thought, ‘How in the world am I going to take care of two toddlers? I have no idea what I’m doing! This would be absolutely insane for me to do! So of course I’ll say yes!’ And… I said yes.” Between sips of creamy mango smoothie Jenny is beaming as she describes the two children, L (age three) and D (age two), just 15 months apart, who bounded into her world with all the fun and challenges you’d expect and so much more. “My world flipped again. I was in for a whirlwind.”
“During the time I had them, it was very challenging. They were beautiful but it was very difficult.” I am intrigued by the wisdom I see in her as she begins to describe how events unfolded once these children entered her home. For the first time she was caring for little ones who were old enough to speak, which opened up endearing new levels of relationship, but also unique glimpses into the unfathomable and traumatic realities of a broken world. There is a weight behind her words, “They’re not only toddlers but toddlers who have been through tragedy, which adds a whole other perspective. They’re kids who are coming in with a lot. It’s so much more heart wrenching when things come out of a child’s mouth that… shouldn’t come out of a child’s mouth. I’m facing all of this and still grieving the loss of Baby A. Still wondering where he is, how he’s doing, worrying about these two, and what’s going to happen with them knowing I couldn’t be a forever option for them. I love this quote to help describe some of the complex emotion of it all, ‘A child born to another woman calls me mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.’ [Jody Landers] As time continues and the bond grows, there’s no way to not fall in love with them. It just gets harder and harder as the time goes on. You try so hard to put up that little wall to protect them - to protect yourself - but you can’t love them like Jesus does and not fall completely in love because you see their strength and the amazing little people they are.”
Our smoothies are nearly empty as the story continues to intensify. I lean into her willingness to share so honestly how after several months it was all starting to feel like a bit too much. Jenny tells me how she finds herself nearing her limit, “It had been going really well and then I just got to a point where I was so overwhelmed - between life, work, these children, and my spiritual life - I got torn down. I told God, ‘I can’t really do this, I’m having such a hard time. I need something to show me whether I need to say to the agency, I can’t do this anymore! or are You going to take care of this for me?’ I prayed that prayer and literally within the week the Lord gave me reassurance that He’s taking care of it. He knows what I can and cannot handle and for how long. Around seven months into the placement I got word they’d be leaving to head into a pre-adoptive home. Then, just before this happened, they became aware of a Grandparent out of nowhere. Everything was put on hold and they asked me to keep going a little longer. I didn’t hesitate, ‘That’s fine!’ Obviously, I want what’s best for the kids and we’re not going to move them all over before they go home.”
I try to imagine myself in her place. Do I know my limits well enough to speak them to God with the same vulnerability and confidence even as I try to obey? Do I believe He knows me well enough to provide and respond? What happens when an answer seems to come, only to get delayed again? How does my faith respond in the same situation? But Jenny hardly skips a beat; I can hear the story heading somewhere from the eagerness in her voice. Something’s coming. Our smoothies are long forgotten and I am unsure of what to expect, but captivated by what is unfolding.
She explains how seven months together eventually stretched into ten - three more months - but God had something very specific to show them in this time. She says it clearly: His faithfulness. As this foster family treasured their time remaining despite its uncertainty, God began to reveal beauty that had been growing, hidden beneath the surface. “It had been tough to see God’s work until then - how He was transforming the kid’s lives and working in me - because I had just felt so tired and overdone all the time, there was no breathing space.” Jenny bursts with pride now, leaning across the table excitedly recounting the surprises God began to show her. She talks about how friends began coming up to her over and over in the last three months, pointing out the visible progress in her youngest, D, saying, ‘Do you remember when he first came? How differently he used to behave?’ They’d reassure her of the transformation happening right before their eyes. God was allowing her to see how much he’d changed and grown in a matter of months. God had been working. “Having that extra time allowed me to see how different D was, how his vocabulary was incredible by the time he left, how his personality was coming out and how happy he was. He was acting like a typical toddler. It was one of the most beautiful things to see who he turned into in the time we were together.”
Now shifting to a story about L, her eyes begin to well up, and she is repeating the same thread weaved throughout their story: God’s faithfulness. “She’s incredibly smart and intuitive of her surroundings. We were on our way home from school and we love listening to worship music (it’s either that or top hits cause she’s a little dancer, she’s so funny). She would have these incredible questions about life - at her tiny age - and on our way home from school one day she asks, ‘What makes God different?’ It was such a beautiful moment for me, every question she asked lined up with the Gospel. And that day she became the first person I led to Christ! I never would have experienced this if they left at the seven months mark. It shows God’s perfect timing in everything, like He knew and would gently pull us forward, saying, You think you can’t handle it here, but let’s get over this little hump and then your world will be changed. These children grew to be so deeply loved in my heart. I’ll forever have that with L. From the little age of four onward, her world will still be up and down, but I know the Lord has her.”
“The last three months together, knowing that they’re leaving soon but not knowing when, was definitely hard, but it became an amazing time. The Lord was so faithful; He opened up my eyes to see the transformation that had taken place in all of us. I know foster care is not all about the successes, but it’s amazing to see where God is working and how He is using you. If D and L had left after seven months I never would have seen it all. It’s so cool that the Lord gave me those extra couple months just to see His work, beauty, and I keep saying it: His faithfulness.” Not only this, but Jenny explains how the process of saying goodbye and transitioning these children into their pre-adoptive home allowed her an unexpected interaction with Baby A’s caseworker after having no contact with him since their final goodbye. The incredible hope of this interaction alone, plus the possible hope of future contact with him was overwhelming.
It is hard to look at the whole of her foster care journey so far and not stand in awe of God’s faithfulness. Together, she and I marvel at how gently God seems to lead Jenny with each step of obedience towards a new and daunting circumstance and yet He is always there ahead, faithfully and clearly making a way, preparing her heart. God sometimes graciously allows for a glimpse of what He is building and growing behind the scenes. And even when we can’t see it all, He is still faithful. With undeniable confidence Jenny affirms, “Though I’ve gone through three losses the amount of blessings and love that I’ve experienced through these three is absolutely incredible and it’s so worth every bit of it.”
“My friend Vinnie Secchiaroli, was speaking recently at Vintage [college-age ministry] and this stuck out to me from the moment he said it, ‘Serving is not sacrifice if you truly love that person.’ So many people look at the devastating things that I feel at such a young age and that the Lord is allowing me to see and they say, ‘Why don’t you take a break? Why don’t you stop? Maybe now isn’t your time, maybe wait until you’re more stable with your life like when you get married, or when you have that extra added support.’ And they’ll say, ‘Why do you sacrifice so much of your time?’ I am 24; I am a young adult. But for me, because of how much I love these children, in my mind this is not even a sacrifice! It is just life with these kids! I loved when Vinnie said that. He summed it up. Serving the Lord is not a sacrifice when you truly love.”
Jenny is insistent and sure. She knows she is walking the path God has laid before her, and that while He never desires our pain He is using every broken thing to make us more like Himself. As she’s walked through new depths of anger, hurt, love, and joy she declares His faithfulness over it all with confidences and assurance that she knows His nearness like she never did before. This alone is part of the gift, the reward of choosing His plan above her own, and she passionately advocates for others to do the same as we continue to rejoice in it all together.
“It’s just so evident especially in this story, His faithfulness. How much He truly cares and loves and wants to show us the blessings He has for us, even if it’s in the most difficult things. He still wants to show us the beauty in it. Even though we don’t - I don’t - deserve it. I don’t deserve these children, I don’t deserve any part of this! But it’s so cool to see how He works in it all. These two flipped my world in such a dreadful-beautiful way.”
As we wrap up our story, we laugh about how there’s no secret ingredient in Jenny that makes her especially able to say ‘yes’ to God compared to anyone else. There’s no hyper spiritual strength, no pedestal she deserves, but instead God delights in choosing His people precisely in our ordinary-ness to do the extraordinary things He has planned for His glory. She excitedly pulls out her phone to share one final quote: “God uses highly unlikely people to do highly unlikely things in highly unlikely places with highly unlikely strategies and gets highly unlikely results.” [Christine Caine] She encourages us all to allow God to do what He will as we follow Him with hope and courage.
For a bit of Jenny’s heart relating to Mother’s Day, click here
There is a significant need for foster parents and foster support in our local area. Foster care is indeed a challenging ministry and can create an emotional roller coaster that’s not for the faint of heart. Children in desperate need seem to arrive suddenly into care, attachments to one another are formed, and just as suddenly, the children could be returned to parents or other family members willing to care for them. Proper training, experience, and community support help foster parents and families navigate through these seasons while providing quality care and God’s love to some of the most vulnerable and forgotten members of our society. To learn more about how to become or assist a foster parent, please visit every-child.com.